C.S. Lewis’s Humble and Thoughtful Gift of Letter Writing - page 1


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From the Fall 2013 issue of Knowing & Doing:  

C.S. Lewis's Humble and Thoughtful Gift of Letter Writing

by Joel S. Woodruff, Ed.D.
Vice President of Discipleship and Outreach, C.S. Lewis Institute

 

s it a sin to love Aslan, the lion of Narnia, more than Jesus? This was the concern expressed by a nine-year-old American to his mother after reading The Chronicles of Narnia. How does a mother respond to a question like that? In this case, she turned straight to the author of Narnia, C.S. Lewis, by writing him a letter. At the time, Lewis was receiving hundreds of letters every year from fans. Surely a busy scholar, writer, and Christian apologist of international fame wouldn’t have the time to deal with this query from a child. And yet Lewis took time out of his busy schedule to answer the letter thoughtfully and carefully. He encouraged the boy, suggested a prayer for him to pray, and then wrote, “And if Mr. Lewis has worried any other children by his books or done them any harm, then please forgive him and help him never to do it again.”1
  Lewis’s response is both simple and profound and reveals a heart that had been softened and molded by the work of the Holy Spirit. And while the letter is unique and personal, it is just one of thousands that flowed from the mind of Lewis through pen and ink to people around the globe. Lewis’s letters touched lives in the past and still minister to us today.  
  Interestingly, this type of letter writing is reminiscent of another great letter writer, the apostle Paul, who wrote tenderly, “To Timothy, my dear son . . . I thank God . . . as night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers. Recalling your tears, I long to see you, so that I may be filled with joy” (2 Tim. 1:2–4 NIV). The letters of Paul, Peter, John, James, and Jude that fill our New Testament give witness to the power of letters to be used by God to disciple and nourish followers of Jesus. While the letters of C.S. Lewis certainly cannot be compared in inspiration and authority to the canon of the Holy Scriptures, it is clear that letter writing is a gift and ministry that when developed and shared with others can still influence lives for the kingdom of God. In fact, Lewis’s comment about Charles Lamb, the British writer, could apply to his own letters, “You’ll find his letters as good as his essays: indeed they are almost exactly the same, only more of it.”2  
  Letter writing was much more common in the early twentieth century than it is today, as it was the primary means of long-distance communication. Without the entertainment distractions of television, YouTube, and other modern media, people used their spare time to engage in conversation with one another over a cup of tea or through the art of written correspondence. Lewis himself was sent off to boarding school at a young age and, being a dutiful son, wrote letters home to his father. He delighted in writing more than three hundred letters during his lifetime to his best childhood friend, Arthur Greeves. And he faithfully wrote to his brother, Warnie, who served overseas in the British Army.  
  Lewis was a naturally gifted letter writer, and a great conversationalist and storyteller, reflecting the Irish gift of “blarney” from his homeland. And yet in his autobiography, Surprised by Joy, Lewis admits how much he disliked the labor of letter writing. He writes that in an ideal life “a man would have almost no mail and never dread the postman’s knock.”3
  However, something changed in his letter writing when he committed himself to following Jesus Christ. Lewis realized that if Jesus was who He claimed to be, then everything in his own life had to change, for, as Lewis wrote in his essay titled “Christian Apologetics,” “One must keep on pointing out that Christianity is a statement which, if false, is of no importance, and, if true, of infinite importance. The one thing it cannot be is moderately important.”4 As a result of this conviction, Lewis was committed to use all means of communication at his disposal to point others toward the truth that made sense out of history, art, philosophy, culture, religion, and all of life.

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